Fatigue: What is it, what are the symptoms and what triggers fatigue?
The day is going well and then all of a sudden, BANG! There it is, from out of nowhere, fatigue hits. So, what is fatigue and how do we manage it?
My first real experiences with fatigue came shortly after my traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2012. At the time, I’d gone back to working, which involved many long trips up and down motorways to visit schools and deliver motivational sessions. I mean, that’s enough to make anyone feel tired isn’t it?
I’d been signed off from John Radcliffe Hospital, eight weeks after my injury and told to live my life as normal, and I did just that.
One such example, I drove from Birmingham to Devon and had to pull off at motorway services many times and sleep in the car. Upon arrival in Devon, I slept before dinner and then felt absolutely wiped out the following day. That was after a full night’s sleep too.
Other than the driving, I also became aware of missing key points of conversations and things like filling in forms seemed a little more difficult.
Fatigue is soooo different from being tired! For me, it can kick in at any point and affects my ability to concentrate, my short-term memory and even my emotions.
The initial symptoms for me; I feel my eyes glazing over and sometimes they water a little. There can be a dull ache on the right side of my head, exactly at the point of the impact of my TBI. Yawning is also an obvious one but I’m sure others notice my blank expression too. The energy levels drop, confusion kicks in and sometimes there is the need for sleep. The least favourite of mine is becoming irritable and snappy; that’s not my normal style.
What Triggers Fatigue?
Having spoken to many people in the brain injury community across the world, there are many common themes that trigger fatigue. These include:
Excessive concentration: I’ve found that getting lots of information at once is really tough. It could be in a conversation where someone is giving instructions or even just telling a story that involves lots of key points.
Noise: now this one is really tough at times. Being in a busy environment, like a coffee shop, with loud conversations, music in the background and those noisy coffee machines. This over-stimulates the senses and causes fatigue to kick in.
Kids: love them, love their laugher and their playfulness but my fatigue just wants to run away from another over-stimulation of the senses.
Stress: anything that causes stress will activate our defence mechanisms and this will drain our battery.
Driving: the safest drivers are the ones who concentrate on the road and, what does concentration cause? Yep, fatigue!
The Fatigue Battery
A great analogy I was given; imagine a mobile phone with lots of apps running in the background. Great when the battery is fully charged but what happens when the battery is low? And, this is exactly how fatigue works. Those apps are the information our brain is receiving and we need to be fully charged to deal with them. Fatigue drains the battery like an older, out of date mobile phone.
My first tip is to understand your fatigue and not fight it. It was always defeat you.
Find out what your triggers are and what you need to do in these situations. For example, if I go to a busy environment, I always try and sit in a corner, with my back to the wall to cut out noise from behind me.
Also, how about keeping a fatigue diary? Make a note of the times you experienced fatigue and what you did beforehand. Rate the fatigue levels out of 10 and see what pattern starts to build up.
Below is a link to a video from our YouTube channel for more tips and good luck, managing your fatigue.